Every year, without fail, I find myself swept up in the Halloween spirit. I go all in on the spooky dÃ©cor, the scary stories, and the endless broadcast of horror movies. And every year, without fail, I find myself losing full nights of sleep, scared out of my mind by whatever new bit of treachery the seasonâ€™s festivities have imparted upon my already fragile psyche. Iâ€™m not ashamed to admit that I frighten easily. Iâ€™m shattered to pieces by any piece of traditional horror fare between The Exorcist and The Nun. But that doesnâ€™t mean I shouldnâ€™t be able to enjoy Halloween, does it? If youâ€™re like me, you may well want to get amped for the most ghoulish time of year, but without the pesky insomnia that comes with it. What you need is some reliable viewing material thatâ€™ll set the mood without pushing you over the edgeâ€”movies and TV shows that are creepy and spooky, but never too scary.Well, weâ€™ve got you covered with a few recommendations. And theyâ€™re all on streaming!
ThelmaA somewhat less gruesome and far more optimistic take on the story of Carrie White, Thelma keeps things winningly creepy in its tale of a college-aged girl newly exploring her inner angels and demons. Though the dreary German backdrop of the film makes for a disconcerting watch from time to time, Thelmaâ€™s central love story doles out plenty of instances of relief; itâ€™s actually a pretty romantic movie all in all.Streaming on: HuluInvasion of the Body SnatchersThat 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers clues you into its game right from the get-go helps to make what might otherwise be an unbearably tense viewing experience actually more of a casual watch, especially for a moviegoer accustomed to the merciless nature of modern horror. There are a couple of scarier sequences, but nothing that should catch you off guard. Plus, the treat of young, pre-stammers Jeff Goldblum should be enough to comfort you through the movieâ€™s darkest chapters.Streaming on: Amazon PrimeOver the Garden WallThe only non-movie on our list, but a worthy exception. This Cartoon Network-produced animated miniseries may look cutesy at first glance (a culprit of the â€œCalArts style,â€ maybe, but an especially striking example to be sure), but packs some genuinely spooky premises and yelp-inducing monster design. The series follows two brothers and a talking bluebird, all lost in some very mysterious woods, from one ghoulish stop to the next, encountering the likes of skeleton cults, evil witches, and the Beast. Even at its most macabre, Garden Wall is a laugh riotâ€”and big-hearted to bootâ€”and the collection of all factors at play makes for one of the most joyful Halloween adventures to hit the screen in years.Streaming on: HuluA Cure for WellnessThough many heralded the 2016 film as a return to director Gore Verbinskiâ€™s horror roots, A Cure for Wellness doesnâ€™t vie for big shrieks in quite the fashion of The Ring (well, maybe the tooth scene), instead maintaining an intriguing chill all the way through its story: a young businessmanâ€™s trip into, and then mission to escape from the eeriest sanitarium in the alps. Accompanying what might otherwise be a two-hour-long shudder session, though, is a helping of bananas-grade weirdness that makes the whole outing that much more of a delight.Streaming on: HBO GOSolarisSlow, weird, occasionally confusing, periodically freaky, and perhaps unlike any other science fiction or horror-adjacent film ever to make it to the big screen. Solaris may not be the â€œfun, spooky rompâ€ that youâ€™re looking for to keep you upbeat company on Halloween night, but more of a cerebral and unsettling milestone that you should no doubt mark off your cinematic bucket list sometime. With Filmstruck leaving us far too soon, nowâ€™s as good a time as any.Streaming on: FilmstruckHigh SpiritsIf this list so far is a bit too ghastly for your tastes, worry not. High Spirits is filled to the brim with ghosts and specters, but is pure comedy from the ground up, and goofy in the way that no film has been able to quite pull off since the late â€™80s. A cast of era-fixtures (Steve Guttenberg, Beverly Dâ€™Angelo, Peter Gallagher, Jennifer Tilly, Martin Ferrero, and Connie Booth) retreat to an Irish castle purported by desperate proprietor Peter Oâ€™Toole to be haunted. The kicker: It really is haunted, and by the likes of a long-dead Darryl Hannah and Liam Neeson no less. High Spirits is cheesy, slapdash, and not exactly up to snuff to todayâ€™s standards of gender politics, but Halloween-appropriate nonetheless.Streaming on: Amazon PrimeMother!Even if you havenâ€™t seen Darren Aronofskyâ€™s latest head trip, youâ€™ve probably heard a few choice words about it. In fact, that may be why you havenâ€™t seen it. Sold as a horror movie proper, Mother! Is really more of a moody mÃ©lange of claustrophobia, frustration, and existential dread. Itâ€™s unsettling, but never for â€œWhatâ€™s behind that door?â€ reasons. More like â€œWhat the heck is wrong with these people?â€ reasons. It may well test your patience, but it never quite leaves your mind after viewing.Streaming on: HuluEx MachinaEvery last molecule inÂ Ex MachinaÂ is designed to make you uneasy, from the otherworldly vibe of its too-sterile, remote setting to the probing existential questions about what it means to be human or machine. But none more than the looming, inscrutable presence of Oscar Isaac's unpredictable genius. Tension abounds from beginning to end, but whenÂ Ex MachinaÂ gives way to levityâ€”if you've seen it, there's one moment that should instantly come to mindâ€”it's pure ecstasy.Streaming on:Â NetflixThe 'BurbsJust as goofy asÂ High Spirits, but much heavier on the creepiness. The only downside is that you've probably seenÂ The 'BurbsÂ a dozen times by nowâ€”anyone with a taste for Halloween fun has surely kept this one in the Rolodex. But in case it's been a few years (or if you're just not sick of it yet),Â this spooky-new-neighbors comedy is a pretty dutiful purveyor of the season-appropriate mood without ever getting unpleasantly frightening. Sure, Carrie Fisher deserved a better role, but let's be honestâ€”Carrie Fisher deserved a better planet.Streaming on: Amazon PrimePersonal ShopperHeadlined byÂ theÂ most interesting actor of our generation, this eerie contemplation on life, death, desire, longing, grief, dreams, art, technology, nature, fashion, and France's public transit system is perhaps my favorite movie of the twenty-first century. Kristen Stewart spends the bulk of it trying to contact (andÂ not be contacted by) a ghost of nebulous identity, ebbing from curious to seriously freaked out along the way. It'll raise the hairs on your arm for sure, but its strong tethers to familiar reality will help to keep from sending you into an all-out-panic the way most ghostly affairs might.Streaming on: ShowtimeWhat will you be watching on Halloween night? Let us know! And if these don't tickle your fancy, perhaps try out some horror anime.
Images: IFC Films, SF Studios, United Artists, Warner Bros TV, 20th Century Fox, Mosfilm, TriStar, Paramount Pictures, A24, Universal Pictures